NorCal Dolmas (and no-waste rice milk!)

>> Tuesday, March 17

Fresh, sticky dolma filling

Of all the teachers I’ve had in my life, a few of them stand out like gold embossing in my memory. One of these radiant individuals is Jon, the counselor from my high school. He and his wife, my art teacher, are two of the spunkiest folks I’ve ever met, and the things I’ve learned from them go a long way past the classroom. Like, for example, into the kitchen. Before moving into teaching, they ran a little restaurant in California and the cooking bug as never left them as far as I can tell.

Last summer, as Sheri scrambled to finish a huge multimedia piece for her art show (that night-artistic procrastination at its best), Jon entered the kitchen with an armload of groceries and a determined jut to his jaw. “We’ve gotta make a lot of food,” he informed Daniel and I, and, wow, did we ever.

I recalled all this last week as I prepared for the Yoga and brunch workshop at B.Yoga Basel. with a bunch of yogis to feed, Jon’s dolmas sprang to mind immediately as an easy, tasty, and for some reason ‘impressive’ dish that I could bring. Everyone likes dolmas. Not just for soulful combo of tangy lemon and spiced rice, but there’s something about the presentation of it all in a slick green grape leaf that makes you think, “I am dining exactly as Caesar would have dined, and for that, I am magnificent.”
Enjoy the illusion of grandeur; just don’t tell them how easy it was to make them. I didn’t manage to get a picture, but I think that’s a fairly good selling point, don’t you?

NorCal Dolmas (makes about 60)
This recipe is modified to simultaneously cook the rice and make rice milk which is not necessary, but COOL. See the notes section for more information on alternative methods and the who-what-why's...

1 jar grape leaves (preferably without the “acidity regulators” and “E-whatevers”)
5 cups short grain brown rice, soaked overnight in twice as much water
3 lemons
400 grams raisins, finely chopped
lotsa cinnamon
a pinch of salt
a grate or two of nutmeg (if you’re feelin’ lucky)
¼ cup olive oil (hugely flexible amount)

  1. Without straining or rinsing, add 2 cups of water to the rice and cook, covered, until tender.
  2. Strain the rice and set aside the liquid (add a tiny pinch of salt and some sugar and you have rice milk! Now that was easy!)
  3. To the rice, add the raisins, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. Stir it all up and be ruthless so the consistency gets good and gooey. You want it to be self-adhesive so it doesn’t crumble when you bite into the dolma.
  4. Add the grated zest and juice of 1 lemon at a time, tasting after each one to make sure it’s not too sour. Adjust the spices to taste. If needed, add a little bit of the rice milk to get the stickiness level up.
  5. Drain the leaves and unfold them on a clean plate. Taste a broken one (there’s always at least one) to make sure it’s not too salty or acidic, and rinse them quickly if it is. If they aren’t flavorful enough, add a dash of apple cider vinegar to the rice mixture.
  6. Pour a tablespoon of oil onto another plate, set a leaf in the oil with the vein-ey side up and the stem facing you, and push the leaf around to coat the plate in oil. Depending on the size of the leaf, fill it with about 2 TBSP filling, fold up the bottom, tuck in the sides, and roll it to the top. Voila!
  7. Repeat until the oil is gone and add another tablespoon of oil. A nice touch is to add some sliced lemon-rounds.
The directions here say to soak the rice. This increases digestibility whether you choose to do the rice milk thing or not, and I recommend soaking all grains overnight before cooking for this reason. Here, the soaking also induces some milky qualities in the water that let us make rice milk later by adding some extra water. Thus, you have 3 choices here:
You can
1) Follow the above directions for rice milk and rice
2) Soak the rice but skip the additional water and straining process, giving you really stomach-friendly rice, which might be nice with all the dried fruit going on here, OR
3) Cook the rice like most people cook rice-stick it in a pot with some water and just cook it, no soaking, no extra water weirdness, no random milk biproduct. Your choice!


Liz March 17, 2009 at 9:01 PM  

Wow! Those sound great, and pretty darn easy. I was a little confused about the soaking rice thing, but you certainly cleared it up in the directions -- too cool! I'm looking for grape leaves next time I'm at the store...

Erin March 17, 2009 at 9:30 PM  

Hm, good point...I'll try to make it a little more clear in the beginning. thanks!

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